Privacy and National Security


We note with concern recent governmental actions and technological developments in the areas of privacy and government secrecy. In the context of the Reagan Administration's efforts to curtail the Freedom of Information Act and expand the amount of classified government information, we are particularly concerned about the national security directive of March 11, 1982 (the National Security Decision Directive). This directive would impose lifetime censorship on a broad range of government employees and would institute widespread use of lie detector tests.

According to the Government Accounting Office, the directive would allow the government to subject four million employees of the government and of government contractors to lie detector tests. If the censorship provisions had been in effect under prior administrations, lifetime gags would have been placed on such men and women as Mondale, Kissinger, Vance, Carter, and Nixon. Everything they said and wrote publicly that pertained to areas of national concern, whereby they had access to classified material (which would cover almost every aspect of the current political scene), would have been subject to prior clearance by the White House. The House Committee on Government Operations recently found that the directive was unjustified and would significantly erode the constitutional rights of American citizens.

At the same time, major technological developments in the area of computer recordkeeping make vast amounts of information about our lives accessible to the government, as well as to private parties. Existing privacy legislation is quickly becoming outdated, and major changes are required.

These recent trends threaten the foundation of our democratic society. Excessive government surveillance creates the kind of suspicion and fear that have a chilling effect on political debate and dissent. This right to privacy, called "the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men," by Justice Louis D. Brandeis, can be preserved only by an informed and vigilant citizenry.


The Executive Committee of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, meeting in New York, NY, on February 6, 1984:

  1. Calls on the President to rescind the National Security Decision Directive;
  2. Commends the Congress of the United States for freezing the implementation of the directive until April l5, l984;
  3. Calls upon Congress to implement legislatively the findings of the House Committee on Government Operations (which states that the directive was unjustified and would result in a major erosion of constitutional rights) by supporting legislation (such as H.R. 4681) that would permanently prohibit the implementation of the directive;
  4. Calls upon the administration to cease efforts to restrict the Freedom of Information Act or, failing that, upon Congress to prevent such restrictions legislatively; and
  5. Urges Congress to enact legislation that would protect financial, legal, medical, and other records in which American citizens have a right to privacy.